Don’t be an MBA Fanboy - Ask Tough Questions!

I can understand how a current student praises the MBA program through student blogs, social media, and other interactions. However, a recent trend that I have seen in some message boards is the die-hard fandom of MBA aspirants. Most of them have just finished their GMAT, and have decided to apply to an MBA program. But they are already big fans of some MBA programs!

Fandom is not a disease but it is irrational. When you are making $150,000 to $200,000 decisions, last thing that should influence you are irrational thoughts. If you have gone through student blogs, 90% of them will be about the ‘awesome experience’, ‘the amazing professors’, and ‘the great opportunity’ that lie ahead for all MBAs. Some message boards are filled with a few sour grapes who bash the Business School on every given opportunity, just because they did not fully understand the value of the MBA program, and overestimated the return on investment.

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

Talk to the Alumni

While I was shortlisting Business Schools, my decision - not to pursue an MBA, and instead start F1GMAT was influenced by a close friend of mine, and 2-3 alumni. I was looking for an Entrepreneurial MBA program and through my interactions with Business School representatives, started believing that an MBA would help me become an entrepreneur. This is true only in cases where you need large Venture Capital support. For all others, you can bootstrap your Business to a large degree, and with a few angel investors, grow the Business to a reasonable size, organically.

Preparing the right questions saved me quite a large sum of dollars.

While you prepare the questions, frame it in such a way that it would question your beliefs about the program. Basically you are collecting evidence to discredit your belief. I am aware that not all of you want to be Entrepreneurs, neither in the short-term nor in the long-term. But here are some research techniques & questions that would help you make an informed decision.

1) Ask them about the background

This is often the most underused question. MBA aspirants are so anxious about making a big decision, that they don’t give enough attention on this one important question. By asking this question, you are setting the foundation for evaluating the value of the MBA program. Categorizing MBA Alumni based on origin, and regions is useful for Business Schools, but for MBA aspirants it doesn’t serve any purpose.

Find Similar Profile

You cannot compare MBA Alumni of Irish origin with an Irish applicant. They have different background, experiences, and networks. All your effort should be on finding the Alumnus or current student, with similar profile: nationality, experience, undergraduate degree, and race.

Unlike what others say, race & nationality, do impact the opportunity, and I have seen some strange excuses given to MBAs regarding fit, even though they were equally qualified. Employers were not openly discriminatory but the excuses about language barriers were laughable.

2) Excuse about the Economy

It has been 9 years since the big financial meltdown, and if the Business School representative is still blaming the economy on the poor show in recruitment, it is time to ask this question to the Alumni. They would have a better perspective on what happened, and what is happening in the job market.

Ask direct questions about job opportunities in your sector, and the availability of jobs in your function. Most of them will share their struggles, and the journey on getting the right job. Learn about the obstacles that they faced, and the remedies they adopted. If the obstacles were attributed to the brand value of the school or the ineffectiveness of the career service team, it is time to find other schools that could fulfill your short-term goals.

3) Reputation and Alumni Reach

Reputation of the school influences how Employers visit the campus, contact the Career Service team, or invite the MBAs for interviews. Ask the Alumni whether the reputation of the School or reach of the Alumni had helped them get interview invites. Many times, information about job openings are shared in private job boards run under the Business School Alumni network. Find out how effective the job boards were during the job search.

Talk to the Student

1) Ask them about the Career Service Team

Current students might not be able to give you the perspective about the brand value in an open job market. Their view would be limited by market trends and opportunities as a ‘current student’. The shield of ‘current student’ protects them from a lot of responsibilities and offers greater privileges than an MBA who is on her own, convincing the Employer about the value that the MBA program offered. But students are at a great vantage point to evaluate the latest career service team.

Most top schools initiate the involvement of the career service team from the start of the program itself. By 4th or 5th month, current students would have experienced a few workshops on MBA Interviews, resume writing, and networking. Career service team should be pro-active, and this quality should be evaluated. Ask the student about the effectiveness of the career service team. The search for internships and projects is an ongoing process, and the team plays an important role in coordinating, and scheduling the timelines for the project. Get details about the latest hands-on experience that the students have gained through such projects.

2) Ask them about the Professors

“I cannot understand a single word that she is talking.” This was the comment that I received from an Alumnus, when I asked him about the quality of the professors.

The professors heavily influence your interest in a concentration, and their ability to teach complex concepts impact the quality of the MBA experience. Achieving Post-MBA goals are tied to your ability to choose one concentration and eventually a new job function – for career switchers, and a new industry – for industry switchers. Even those who are planning to climb the corporate ladder with an ‘MBA’ brand, the learning experience impacts confidence. Therefore, ask a lot of questions about the professors – the best, the worst, and the most influential.

Some leading professors appear in various Guest Roles. Understand their involvement in the teaching experience. Don’t pick a school just because a superstar professor is associated with the MBA program. It might be for a few modules. Evaluate the teaching experience based on the aggregate value that the professors are offering. In many cases, well-known personalities might be involved with the school. But teaching is an art form, and not all personalities can offer a great teaching experience. The anecdotes, and examples might offer very little value for the MBA curriculum but they might be great life lessons for you.

Use F1GMAT's MBA Research Guide to prepare your initial list of MBA Programs

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Measure MBA Career Service Team's Effectiveness
Use Bookending to Calculate MBA Admission Chance
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Don't Fall for the Mere Exposure Effect
Best Practices to find the truth in MBA Information Session or MBA Tour

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